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*shot out of a canon.

Guess what! I got a camera for Christmas!

Guess what! It has a digital macro setting!

Guess what! I can't stop taking close-ups of random subjects!

Guess what! You can click on each image for more detail!



Bottega tiramisu, a la Frank Stitt.



Italian meat.



Incarcerated potatoes.



Pepper jelly: a Southern delight.



Thick, briny goat cheese, pepper jelly's bosom buddy.



Tiny, sticky pecan pies with flaky crusts and a proud sheen.



JB's frittata, expertly whipped full of air and studded with corn and tomatoes.



Cracker.



Lime-dusted chip.

P.S. I'm being held captive by exclamation points. Please alert the grammar police. If help doesn't come soon, I'll be forced to write soap-opera-style syndicated comic strips.
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*pups on parade.

I know this forum is becoming a little four-legs-and-a-tail-heavy, but industriousness levels hovering around 12% mean I have cleaned, cooked, and shopped for nary a thing in eons, leaving me with little but pup news to report.

A couple of weeks ago, I tagged along with LSis and JLB (plus MJ, A, and E) to the Humane Society.

LSis' friend S works there, and had been trying valiantly for weeks to get us to agree to bring the Impossible Posse down for their glamour shots.

I was justifiably wary—the idea of J in strange environs, flanked by strange dogs and approached menacingly by a new-smelling man in a fake beard struck me as a surefire disaster scenario.

In an attempt to exhaust the tiny gerbil-on-a-wheel that is his neurotic brain, I took him for an epic walk, making him more amenable to just about anything ... including clothes.

I KNOW.

JLB insisted the Posse all don their gay apparel for the occasion.

Shot 1: The group shot.



What you see: J, psyched to find a bed, plopped his happy ass down instantly. Roscoe (determined Maltese) and Sam (devoted poodle) had no interest in the camera. They only have eyes for JLB. Layla (dear, lazy beagle) and Sissy (lap-obsessed Chihuahua) were DECIDEDLY less than interested in "sit."

What you don't see: LSis holding down beagle and Chihuahua butts. (S Photoshopped her right on out.) Also, S behind the camera, making a slew of animal noises that weren't meant to come from a human. J particularly enjoyed the duck noise.

Shot 2: Case in point.



He's all, "WHERE IS THE DUCK?" Having brain space occupied by gerbils will do that to a dog.

Shot 3: LSis' insistence.



Christmas picture with my life partner. Not a little ridiculous. Though the coat, I think you'll agree, is tremendous.

Shot 4: Sissy solo.



Perfect little lady crossed her paws and had the perfect image in three shots. Show-off.

Shot 5: Roscoe and Sam sit still (momentarily).



You can't blame them, really. Roscoe was dogged in his attempts to determine WHAT WAS BEHIND THE GREEN CURTAIN. They could have used him in Oz. Sam rocked his rapper chain in quiet resilience, until it all became too much and he hadtogetbacktomomrightnow.

Shot 6: Loo takes a nap.



Poor lady. Always on the lookout for the nearest soft place to curl. To her credit, those are some irresistible bedroom eyes.

To all who linger here: Happy Holidays to all, and to all a wet nose.
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*a dog's life.



A run, a bath, and some focused gnawing.



Sunday funday.
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*tree house.

This year, the only thing standing between ME and CHRISTMAS DECOR was a triple threat: dustbunnies, molding dishes, and a bathtub you could grow a culture in. Doesn't that seem like a trifecta worth embellishing?

But LSis insisted I attempt to approximate My Life as a Grown-up, and dragged me to Garden Ridge. Whereupon I decided, like a 3-year-old, that I wanted a yellow-and-brown Christmas tree. Because I am strange, and easily drawn to shiny things.

In this case that meant a thick, embossed yellow ribbon.

CUT TO:

Two weeks later. Life and laziness conspired to keep my tree in the shed, encased in a box covered in unidentified droppings, but I finally managed to brave the broad expanse of yard and drag the disintegrating tree coffin to the house.

LSis FORCED ME to spend money (gasp!), yielding the brown ornaments I'd hoped for, and some irresistible accompaniments:

blushing beige hydrangeas



and (possibly my favorites) stern, snow-white owls.



LSis and I embarked on a comedy of errors to string the lights

(Sample conversation:

LSis: Aw, man. We put these lights on backwards.

KFin: Wait, why? Do they have to hook together?

Someone needs to check the warranty on my brain.)

but finally got things a-blinking.



Ultimately, I think the whole thing came together nicely. I was really pleased, and far happier than I was with my half-hearted purple-and-silver decor of the past two years.



Now I spend most nights cocooned on the sofa, lights off, watching the twinkle and feeling happy in the silence.

J found the whole experience a bit stressful (SYNTHETIC FLORA IS TERRIFYING).



But he's finding that yoga helps.
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*on holiday.

They say all good things must come to an end. Apparently "they" are the phone company, who burst my brief bubble of happiness by cruelly reinstating my Internet only to wrench it from my giddy grasp a day later. AT&T giveth, and AT&T taketh away.

If I have any readers at all at this point I'd be flabbergasted. If you have faithfully checked for signs of life each day, or if you subscribe to my RSS feed, bless you. And also, maybe get out a little more.

I could give you the avalanche of WHAT THE HOO HAH that has buried me up to my neck in the past month, but I'll spare you. THAT IS YOUR CHRISTMAS PRESENT. You're welcome. Suffice it to say I am the proverbial camel. And if I see one more straw, I may just lose it. I don't know what will happen, nor when—I may kick a squirrel, or set something on fire (I'm looking at you, side-view-mirror-destroying tree)—but it will involve obscenities.

If you work at AT&T, be alert. That's all I'm saying.

So, as I prepare to bid farewell to the shitstorm that was 2008, I send it out not with a bang, nor a whimper, but with a smorgasbord. Few things cannot be solved by the 2/$5 Cheez-Its deal at Publix. On the Woodside, this is also known as the 2 boxes/5 minutes deal. I would tell you I'm fattening myself up for winter, but the 70-degree temperatures belie such a plan.

Thanksgiving, which seems light-years ago, was spent at the G's lake house. It's a lovely homestead, with views of the water and a grassy hill and the world's steepest driveway. It required war-room-type planning, because I had to determine what to make ahead of time, what to make at the house, and what supplies I'd need in each case. I was joined by LSis and MJ, four dogs, and JLB—aka The Cripple. (JLB's 2008 leaves something to be desired, too. Ask her about her epic fall, the tragic knee injury, and the hard-boiled egg at the root of it all.)

The night before our much-anticipated departure, I made Curried Calabaza Soup, making sure I brought a little extra vegetable broth. I used acorn squash in place of the calabaza, and it came out a smidge thick.



In retrospect I would have thinned it a bit more, and I did wish the curry had been punchier and I'd had some cold sour cream to cut the heat, but there were clean bowls when all was said and done. Behind that you see the "cranberry sauce." Thanksgiving WITHOUT FAIL produces at least twice the cranberry sauce you need, and I was hoping for a turkey breast that wouldn't need the sauce for hydration purposes. So I made Giada's Cranberry Lime Bellinis. If you don't make cranberry sauce, you might as well get sauced WITH cranberries. Unfortunately, this is my line of thinking on a lot of subjects.

I also made Smashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Chives. I packed some extra milk so that I could moisturize them a little on reheating, and they went the way the soup should have gone. We had mashed soup and potato soup.



I also packed some extra chives for garnish. These were good but not transcendent, and I wouldn't be in a Wal-mart stampede to make them again. Tasty, and super useful as leftovers, but not anything worth slapping your mother over.

In lieu of baking, I picked up some Publix challah.



I love that eggy bread. It wasn't as good as Big Sky challah, but a smear of butter cures all ills.

On site, I made Broccoli with Cheddar Sauce.



At the last minute I decided to double the sauce (hence obliterating the Cooking Light benefit). Those brown flecks come from the most delicious Maille whole-grain mustard. Yes, you pay more of a premium than you would on, say, Southern Home, but as a person who has carried on a lifelong love affair with mustard, I can tell you without hesitation: It's so worth it. As Rachael Ray would stupidly and repetitively say (always ALWAYS about nutmeg), "It's that little something in the background that makes them say, 'Hmmm ... What is that?'" It's your dignity, Ray Ray.

JLB made dressing.



There was lots of tasty stuff in it (including hard-boiled eggs—HARBINGER OF DOOM!), and I even set aside my usual anti-wet-bread stance to give it a whirl. I may be a convert.

LSis made the world's. tastiest. pie.



It's made more elegant by her impressive swirly handiwork, but if you really want to wow some folks, ask her for the recipe. It was almost disturbingly delicious, like an enormous Reese's cup with a chocolate-chip-cookie crust. Commence mother slapping.

And of course, I made the turkey breast. Spiced Turkey Breast, to be precise.



I foist my mustard love on everyone, even when I'm not indulging in the main course. I wanted to take it out about an hour before it was done, but LSis forcibly restrained me from passing platters of salmonella around.

Ultimately I thought it seemed a little bit dry, but the carnivores swore up and down that it wasn't.

Here's the finished composition, complete with the gravy that MJ reminded me 386 times that he MUST HAVE on T-day.



Aaaaaaaaaand aftermath.



LSis pried every available piece of meat off the bone for optimal day-after consumption.



(See those flaky, dehydrated looking portions? Methinks carnivores are LIARS.)

And, though LSis is by definition something of a hardass, a fair bit of bird went into these two.



Bellies full and glasses atipsy, we left the boy to do the dishes and settled into crooked smiles and food comas.

I gave thanks for lovely friends, cozy rain, and more absurdly competitive board games than I ever thought possible (excellent intoxication test: If you're playing Taboo, and someone gives you clues about Pretty Woman, Steel Magnolias, Richard Gere, and prostitute, and you can't name Julia Roberts? It's time for bed.).

J gave thanks for tryptophan. And beagle butts.

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*in absentia.

Factors keeping me away from blogging:

1. Job fears, news, and ensuing sadness.

2. Job fears, relief, and ensuing overwhelmedness.

3. A lifelong affection for laziness.

4. Incredible Disappearing Internet Connection.

5. TFin told me to "buck up," so I decided to whine in private. I was all, HOW DARE YOU ADMONISH MY MOST PERSONAL THOUGHTS WHEN I HAVE HAD THE GOOD SENSE TO BROADCAST THEM ABOUT THE INTERNETS?

6. See reason No. 3.

But! I have much to share, including a Thanksgiving meal only saved by LSis' presence of mind. Had it been up to me, there would have been plenty of raw bird to go around. I am not gifted with patience.

There is anecdotal evidence I will relate that will indicate without doubt that this:



is in fact far, far from true.

I've missed you, friends, family, and creepy strangers searching for "ashley in bondage." I've missed you.
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*cold shoulders.

Last night, just as the temperature dropped into freezing territory, my furnace died.

Last night, after I cleaned out the air filter, I created a mud puddle in my backyard that led to in-house paw prints of epic proportions.

Last night, when I was trying to see if I needed a new fuse for the furnace, I dropped the existing fuse 5 feet down into the ductwork.

Last night, when I tried to buy a new fuse, the orange-aproned dude said, "What does this go to?" and when I said, "The fuse box," he made me feel like the idiot I clearly am.

This morning, I got yet another HAPPY DELINQUENT PAYMENT! card from my car-financing company.

This afternoon, I paid a very nice man from a heating-and-air-conditioning company $165 to tell me I'm a slob.

This evening, I drifted a little bit, into sadness and regret and worry.

But now, for just a minute, I kicked up my heels.
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*the chips are down.

A wonderful thing happened to me today. I walked into the office, wobbly with fevered anticipation and smelling of eau de fear on each pulse point. And as I threw my "chik'n" patty in the communal refrigerator, I saw these.



POTATO CHIPS. FOR FREENESS. Just sitting there, waiting to be taken! Sure, they said, "100% Fat Free" and (more ominously) "It's a Revolution."

Sidebar: Does my lunch look like a third-grader's? Thought so, just checkin'.

But I am not one to look at gratis grub sideways. I grabbed them, fleetingly skeptical about the oddly punctuated "Better than 'Baked' ...Much better than 'Fried'..." claim on the label, making sure to pick the french-onion-and-garlic flavor. And this is what I was rewarded with:



NO. NO, bad photo. This does not do the hideousness justice. The evil nastiness was exposed when I read the label—turns out the way around baking and/or frying is to FREEZE DRY THEM—but how was I to know? I was horribly blind-sided! They were the color of fluorescent light bulbs, eerily translucent with a purple-white glow. The texture? Potpourri. The flavor? Armpit.

Someone. Must. Pay.
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*economic futility.

Is it just me, or have these round-ups been coming in later and later in the week?

It's not just me. Stress levels and high-tide job-related sadness have conspired to drain me of my usual levels of crass wackitude.

See? That sentence was absurd.

I have had neither the financial wherewithal nor the energy to cook, because I've become hopelessly devoted to things that make me feel better. Those things usually come with tableside service and salt on the rim. But if I were rediscovering the joys of being in the kitchen, this would make me laugh every time I used it.



On my current All-Carb Diet (soon to be patented to the terminally thin!), 20,000 grains of rice sounds pretty appetizing.

Before I cooked it, though, I'd like to store the rice in this.



I have an unhealthy devotion to containers of any kind, and this one is pretty in its simplicity.

As is this.



It's like someone turned the perfect farmhouse kitchen towel into a casserole dish. I can imagine it filled with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and peas in a cream sauce, globbed with buttery biscuits.

Though there's a chance that might make me feel like a pig.



The look on that little piggy face just cracked me up.

This, however, made me a little misty.



I imagine it as the perfect gift for someone you love if you travel a lot. Or live far from one another. Or need to send the message that you'd like someone to move to a different time zone.

Which is what I'll be doing if I don't stay employed. Until then, it would probably behoove me to get to work on time, and I think this might help.



What now serves as the receptacle for all-things-sundry on the Woodside is the "dining room" table. Its position directly inside the front door makes it convenient, but also unsightly when piled with junk mail, handbags, dog leashes, and receipts. Because the Woodside is so narrow, the fact that it has space-saving capability makes it doubly helpful.

Speaking of saving space: This is the item that knocked my socks off the most this week.



My spices are a-jumble, but I couldn't believe when I saw this. Do a Google search and you'll discover what I found—there are a lot of heinous spice racks out there.

But this is the opposite of heinous.



It's tidy and useful, though I suspect even in it diminutive state it'd still be too small for the Woodside galley. Either way I'd need to find another use for that side feature. A bottle of wine does not last long around these parts.

Nor does a box of matches. My bathroom overhead lighting is hideous, so candles it is. I love this, but fear it's too delicious to use.



It isn't easy to feel motivated and inspired within the spectre of doom. It isn't even easy to feel awake when your anxiety dreams are laced with every fear your subconscious can conjure (including a few usual suspects who had until now stayed firmly at bay) and you're subsisting on a buffet of overeating and indigestion.

Which is why I found this firmly buoying.



Shit yeah.
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*doggie distraction.

Regularly scheduled programming will return tomorrow, PROMISE. Until then, I'm going to make myself a cuteness cocktail.

Video chat rooms at Ustream
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*lay off.

Enough already. This is EXHAUSTING.



No news from me, just sad puppy.
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*no thanks.

It's a gorgeous, cloudless day outside, an incongruous landscape considering what's going on inside. Editor-in-chief gone—not a complete surprise but still panic-making, both for her and for a now-rudderless ship. There aren't enough life boats on this here Titanic.

And so I give you work-in-progress Thanksgiving menu (click to enlarge).



Here are the recipes:

Curried Calabaza Soup
Spiced Turkey Breast
Smashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Chives
Cranberry Lime Bellinis



The challah will come from a local bakery, and LSis has promised to make the pie.

What do you think? We're going to have to execute the whole deal off site, and with a really limited budget, so I wanted to keep things simple. But I'm not sure. Is goat cheese and cheddar sauce too much cheese? Is there such a thing as too much cheese? Anybody have any suggestions that would improve what I have so far?

One thing is for sure: I'm going to spend that day toasting all the things I still have to be grateful for, and sending good thoughts to the people who have a little less thanks to give this year.

Hold on tight.
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*beagle and cheese.





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I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.

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